Male- and female-dominated fields | Gas station without pumps

June 28, 2014 at 9:40 am 3 comments

Interesting post on how STEM isn’t all male-dominant, but Engineering and CS are SO male dominant, it shifts the average.

Computer science is a particularly strange case, as it has seen more fluctuation both in raw numbers of students data not shown here and gender balance than any other field. Other fields have seen large shifts in gender balance, but they have generally been gradual and nearly monotonic—not reversing course in the early 1980s.  It seems to me that the biggest drops in the ratio of women in CS came at times when the overall number of students in CS was dropping like after the dot-com bubble burst in the 2000.  When CS grew, the number of women grew faster than the number of men.  When CS shrunk, the number of women shrunk faster than the men.  Perhaps if CS education had had a steady growth, rather than the boom-and-bust cycles that have plagued it since the late 1970s, it would not have had such a mysterious rise and fall in proportion of women in the field. The boom-and-bust cycles are not driven by the real need for CS degrees, but by media hype about relatively small shortages or excesses of personnel.  I believe that the demand for CS degrees has been stabler than the supply unlike most other fields, where the supply has been steady even as demand has fluctuated.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alisha Waller  |  June 28, 2014 at 10:32 am

    Furthermore, if you consider the number of men and the number of women in engineering over this time period, instead of the percentage of women, you will see that some of the % growth in women is due to the number of men decreasing in the 1990s. Without real change in the culture of engineering education and practice and real change in society’s expectations, we will never achieve significant change.

  • 2. Michael S. Kirkpatrick  |  June 28, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    So this raises an interesting problem for CS Ed researchers. Assume it is true that “When CS grew, the number of women grew faster than the number of men.” CS enrollments are currently booming again; history says that female participation will increase as a result. If a researcher introduces an intervention aimed at increasing female enrollment, how can we possibly evaluate the validity of the claim? I guess a regression could be possible if we had a model that captured the natural correlation. But this just seems to be very problematic timing for that type of research.

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  July 1, 2014 at 9:06 am

      This is where qualitative research becomes critical. The numbers give you direction and magnitude of change, but not intentionality. Back in 2005, when we first adopted Threads, there was a big spike in enrollment. Many said that it was because of Threads. Maureen Biggers surveyed the first year students. Less than 25% even knew what Threads was! The spike was not due to Threads.

      CRA has started a “Data Buddies” program where Universities are matched up, so that changes in one can be measured in the other.


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